This Belgium generation had its high hopes of going even further shattered by French defender Samuel Umtiti's second-half headed goal Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
"Vive la France! Vive la Republique!" The effort from the players was magnificent, I couldn't ask for more. "We have a great team; a squad with the flawless combination of youth and experience", the Tottenham goalkeeper said. France were in the final of the Euros, but I don't want any of my players to be frustrated or disappointed. I thought we were growing into the game when we conceded the goal from the corner. There were certainly shades of this in the European Championships two years ago, but no one would confuse Payet's proclivity for flair at the expense of playing a complete match or the lackadaisical defending of Patrice Evra or Bacary Sagna for the dogged performances of current full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. As France captain, Deschamps raised soccer's most prized trophy in 1998.
But for Courtois, France's margin of victory would have been greater as he made saves from Griezmann and Corentin Tolisso in stoppage time. But it is hard to face such a team, as the first goal means so much in a game like this.
Giroud won a corner with a deflected shot and Antoine Griezmann's delivery to the near post was met by the soaring Umtiti who powered his header past Courtois, the ball brushing the ample locks of Marouane Fellaini on its way.
Up in the corporate seats, president Macron reacted to the goal by shaking the hand of King Philippe of Belgium as Federation Internationale de Football Association president Gianni Infantino watched on between them.
Safe to say Belgium players were unhappy with the tactics used by France to progress into the World Cup final on Tuesday night.
"The difference sadly is a set play in a very close and tight game", said Spaniard Martinez. In 2006, they were beaten in a penalty shootout by Italy in a World Cup final that was overshadowed by Zidane headbutting opposing player Marco Materazzi in the chest in extra time. Leading the scoring in this tournament with 14 goals, many thought this could be their year. They had just 39% of the possession and fewer shots at goal, but as this World Cup has shown time and again, it's what you do with the ball that counts.
If Hazard dazzled the brightest in the opening 45 minutes, Mbappe flourished in the second period. Mbappe has Algerian-Cameroonian roots. It's their right to play like that, but it's not nice to see.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois expressed his displeasure when he said, "France have played "anti-football".